Breaking barriers

Regardless of where American women sit on the political spectrum, Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the first female presidential candidate of a major political party is a historic breakthrough. It only took 96 years since women got the right to vote back in 1920 for a female to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.

Some older women voters in Queens and around the country believe there is a moral imperative to vote for Hillary because of her gender, while many younger women voters who have not felt the sting of being treated as second-class citizens don’t understand that fervor. They are too young to have been told to finish college so they could put their husbands through graduate school or to accept that they would be paid less than men for the same job.

But as the old Bob Dylan song says, “the times they are a changin’” and Queens has been on the cutting edge when it comes to women in politics.

Geraldine Ferraro, the congresswoman from Forest Hills Gardens and a prosecutor, crashed through part of the glass ceiling when she was nominated in 1984 as the first female vice presidential candidate for a mainstream party. The Mondale-Ferraro Democratic ticket was defeated, but Ferraro paved the way for other women to climb the political ladder in Queens and Hillary to run for the nation’s top office.

Claire Shulman, a nurse by training, became the first female borough president of Queens in 1986 after scandal-tarred Donald Manes resigned from the post and went on to commit suicide. Shulman was only the second woman to head a borough in the city after Constance Baker Motley, a black civil rights lawyer, who was elected in 1965 to the Manhattan seat.

Shulman, who used the borough president’s office as a powerful bully pulpit for her Queens agenda, served until 2001 when she was term limited out of office. Helen Marshall, an educator, followed from 2002 to 2013 and now Melinda Katz, a lawyer and former assemblywoman, has been running the borough since 2014.

There are other firsts.

In 2013, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng became the first woman from Queens elected to the House since Geraldine Ferraro. The first Asian-American member of Congress from New York, the Bayside lawyer was just elected vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Whatever the outcome of this presidential race, Hillary has toppled barriers to the White House for herself and future generations and she has stood tall on the shoulders of the women from Queens who have made history in their own right.

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